Playing Politics With the United States Holocaust Museum
Over the weekend, the Trump administration faced justified criticism over its statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which did not reference the centrality of Jewish mass murder as the very essence of the German genocide.
President Trump did not expressly mention that six million Jews were annihilated by the Nazis — and that should have been corrected. A strong friend of Israel’s who is extremely devoted to his Jewish daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, Trump undoubtedly did not mean to cause offense. But where something as serious as the Holocaust is concerned, what matters is action, not intent. Though it refused to correct this one, I trust the administration will be much more careful in its future pronouncements.
The same is true of the president’s temporary ban on refugees coming into the United States. Yes, the case can be made that extreme vetting is necessary in an age of widespread Islamic terrorism. But the president must demonstrate a simultaneous commitment to saving innocent Arab lives in Syria and Yemen by establishing safe zones where refugees can find immediate sanctuary. The Jewish community should be at the forefront of calling on the president to safeguard the lives of refugees — even as he acts to protect the American people against possible infiltration by terrorist elements.
And whatever new procedures he seeks to put in place to properly vet refugees must be done in great haste, so that America’s gates do not remain closed and innocent lives are not lost. America is and must remain a haven for refugees. No one knows this better, and no one’s voice should be heard more passionately on refugees, than the Jewish community.
It would also behoove President Trump to likewise correct an affront to Holocaust memory that was made by President Obama, just days before he left office. In a brazen act of contempt for the Jewish and pro-Israel community, Obama appointed Ben Rhodes, the chief Iran nuclear deal messenger, to the United States Holocaust Memorial Commission.
According to the New York Times, as the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, Rhodes wrote the president’s speeches, planned his trips abroad and developed the White House communications strategy. He was “the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from Potus himself.” His influence, the article said, was a function of his “mind meld” with the president. Translated, this means that Rhodes shares accountability for the disastrous foreign policies of the Obama administration.
The most damaging policy Rhodes supported was the catastrophic nuclear deal with Iran that has allowed it to blackmail the United States; to act with impunity in pursuing its hegemonic goals in the Middle East; to expand its support for global terrorism; to finance and arm Hezbollah and Hamas for a future conflict with Israel; to develop ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads; and to build nuclear weapons when the deal expires, if not before.
The Times profile highlighted “Rhodes’s innovative campaign to sell the Iran deal.” He presented the deal as a way to take advantage of a “new political reality in Iran, which came about because of elections that brought moderates to power in that country.” This was patently false, but the argument was “manufactured for the purpose for selling the deal” and “even where the particulars of that story are true, the implications that readers and viewers are encouraged to take away from those particulars are often misleading or false.” Rhodes, like others in the Obama administration, exemplified the definition of diplomacy as the patriotic art of lying for one’s country.
“We created an echo chamber,” he told the Times, when asked to explain how he organized experts to endorse the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.” The tactics were effective, and Rhodes proudly said that they drove the deal’s critics crazy.
“Rhodes is not bragging about being a master of political spin,” Jeff Dunetz observed in a blog for The Lid. “He is bragging about being a ventriloquist for the media. What he writes comes out of the mouths of ‘the columnists and reporters.’”
Rhodes also mounted a campaign to demean Israel’s concerns about the nuclear deal. A senior Obama official, now widely believed to be Rhodes, suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warnings about Israel resorting to military force to stop the Iranians were mere bluster. The “official” told Jeffrey Goldberg, “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit” — an ironic comment from someone representing an American leader who never served in the military about a man who served in Israel’s Special Forces in two wars.
The Obama official went on to intimate that relations with Israel would get worse after the midterm elections, and that the administration might withdraw diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations, which eventually happened.
In defending Obama’s vote at the UN, Rhodes blatantly lied to Judy Woodruff when he claimed that Israel has built “thousands of new settlements.” First, the total number of settlements, according to Peace Now, is 228, including “illegal” outposts. No new settlements have been built in years.
Rhodes’ tendency toward the use of alt-facts to feed the echo chamber is why Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer called him “a master of fiction.” Rhodes’ credibility was further called into question when reports recently surfaced that the FBI denied, or was going to deny, Rhodes an interim security clearance during President Obama’s transition. If true, Rhodes had no business taking part in sensitive discussions about issues such as Iran.
Membership on the board of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council carries with it a weighty responsibility of honoring the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and speaking out against modern-day genocides. Rhodes is a man whose disrespect for the truth and the homeland of the Jewish people, and his excuses for Iran’s genocidal threats against Israel, mirror the callousness of State Department officials who wouldn’t help European Jews.
The gravest sin he committed, however, which disqualifies him for any association with the Holocaust Memorial, is his complicity in the genocide in Syria.
Like Nero, Obama has figuratively fiddled while Syria burned. After stating that Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his opponents would cross a red line that would trigger a US military response, Obama failed to back up his threat. This cowardly act was universally viewed by friends and foes alike in the Middle East as a sign of weakness, and left allies, including Israel, questioning whether they could depend on the United States to protect their interests.
A bystander to genocide has no business in a position of honor or responsibility at an institution devoted to documenting past genocides and preventing future ones. Rhodes was worse than a bystander, however; he was an active participant in the decision not to act to prevent the slaughter.
President Trump should call for Rhodes’ immediate resignation. In addition, a campaign should be conducted through the “echo chamber” calling on the Chair and the rest of the Holocaust Memorial council to remove Rhodes forthwith, to prevent his presence from tarnishing the reputation and mission of this vital institution.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published “The Israel Warrior: Standing Up for the Jewish State from Campus to Street Corner.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.